Celebrity chef Rachael Ray has sparked an uproar with this tweet showcasing foods from her “Holiday Feast – Israeli nite.”Except of course all the dishes on her table are actually traditional Palestinian and Levantine foods.
The reaction was predictable – and amusing. Here are just a few of the dozens of tweets mocking her crude cultural theft:Israel has aggressively used cuisine as one of its marketing and branding tools to try to distract from its violations of the rights of millions of Palestinians.
Ray – who runs a culinary business empire from cook books, to TV shows, to branded products on supermarket shelves – is helping Israel commit one of the perennial forms of settler-colonial fraud: clothing settlers in indigenous culture in order to establish some form of authenticity.
In her study of long-standing European American desires to emulate Native Americans, Shari Hunhdorf calls this “going native” and argues that “even seemingly harmless images of Native Americans can articulate and reinforce a range of power relations including slavery, patriarchy and the continued oppression of Native Americans.”
Whenever this debate reawakens in the Palestinian context – typically after a celebrity or corporation tries to market Palestinian culture as “Israeli” – there are those who try to dismiss objections as chauvinism or pettiness. “Culture belongs to everyone!” they cry.
Or they try to erase the specific local histories of these foods or products by claiming they belong to some kind of generic “Mediterranean” culture that is widely shared and therefore doesn’t really belong to anyone.
As I’ve written previously, Palestinians have no trouble sharing their heritage and celebrating its connections with peoples all over their region and the world. However:
The issue with Israel is much more serious than that. For more than a century, the Zionist movement has colonized Palestine, and since 1948, Israel has engaged in the systematic physical destruction of Palestine, ethnic cleansing of Palestinian communities and the erasure of Palestinian folkways.
This has included the systematic renaming of places with Hebrew and pseudo-biblical names, again, as part of a process of erasure and replacement.
At the same time, Israel recodes indigenous peoples’ cultures as its own and Palestinians correctly see this as an attempt to complete the erasure: the Palestinians were never there but the ancient traditions of the land were there and were always Jewish or Israeli.
Therefore, resisting Israeli cultural appropriation and ensuring that things are correctly named is part of the process of resisting the ongoing Zionist ethnic cleansing of Palestine.
After all, if culture didn’t matter and was merely a trivial concern for pedantic “purists,” Israel wouldn’t expend so much effort trying to steal and rebrand it.
These Israeli efforts to erase Palestinians are ongoing, and openly declared by Israel’s leaders.
Take for example Israel’s “culture” minister Miri Regev, who was in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron on Monday. (This is the same Regev who in 2012 said Africans were like cancer and then apologized for comparing them to “human beings.”)
Palestinians in Hebron’s Old City continue to suffer Israel’s violent ethnic cleansing to make way for Israeli settlers. Regev was there to advance that by laying the foundation stone for a new settler museum.
“The more you dig here, the more you find that there is no Palestinian Arab currency and no connection [between the land] and the Palestinian Arab people,” Regev claimed. “This land has a connection with only one people – the Jewish people – and therefore we will stay here forever.”
And earlier this month, Israel’s “education” minister Naftali Bennett (who has bragged about killing Arabs) declared, “The Palestinian issue is a fake issue, just like the notion of a Palestinian state is a fake state.”
People who help rebrand Palestinian culture as “Israeli” are complicit in this violent agenda.
This is not Ray’s first time blundering on the question of Palestine. A decade ago, Dunkin Donuts pulled an ad featuring the celebrity wearing a scarf that some said looked like a Palestinian kuffiyeh.
The complaint from racists and Islamophobes was that the scarf looked “Arab” and symbolized “murderous Palestinian jihad.”
Now – perhaps to be on the safe side – Ray is erasing the existence of Palestinians altogether.
There are lots of ways to learn about Palestinian food and the culture around it. For starters listen to The Electronic Intifada Podcast’s recent interview with Joudie Kalla, author of Palestine on a Plate.
The interview was done by Laila El-Haddad, author of The Gaza Kitchen.